It's one thing to drive somewhere nice and ride your bike for the day, and quite something else to park your car and leave it behind for several days as you tour the countryside by bike.

Even if gas prices weren't steadily rising, there are plenty of other good reasons to make a bicycle the transportation centerpiece of your vacation travels this summer. As I write this, my sweetheart, Marilyn, and I have just started a four-night, five-day getaway on our tandem bike, and I can already think of five good reasons why it's better than traveling by car.

First, traveling entirely by bike makes a getaway to even the most familiar destination a new and fresh adventure. Marilyn and I go to Cape Cod almost every year to bike and kayak, and explore different places to stay and eat, and different things to do. Much of the time, we have our kayaks with us, as well as our bike, but, this year, we decided to do Falmouth and Martha's Vineyard by bike.

Today, we pedaled our tandem touring bike from Onset (where we parked our car at a relative's house), to the edge of the Cape Cod Canal, across the Bourne Bridge. From there, we took Shore Road most of the way down to North Falmouth, where we picked up the Shining Sea Bikeway.


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Along the way, we saw hundreds of beautiful houses and gardens, had our choice of restaurants we'd never seen before -- and never would have found if we had driven our car down busy Route 28.

Second, biking puts you out in the world and engages all of your senses. As we pedaled yesterday, we heard birds calling constantly, we savored the scents of flowers, new-mown grass, and baking pizza, and the smell of the sea and the tidal flats. And we felt the warm sun and the brisk breeze in a way we never could have, even in a convertible or on a motorcycle with the required protective clothing and heavy helmet.

Third, of course, biking is exercise. Two advantages there: first, the human body is meant to be used and you simply feel more alive if you use yours. Second, exercise burns calories and that means you get to replace those calories with great food. Marilyn burned nearly a 1,000 calories on our 25-mile ride, just on the first day, I surely burned even more. We find that we don't eat more when we are biking, we just enjoy it more.

Fourth, traveling by bike is relaxing. Part of that is the exercise again, but part of it has to do with the different pace of biking. Unless you are the type that has to make life a race, biking slows down everything -- except your metabolism. You settle into an easier pattern, plan to do less and find yourself savoring it more. We also find we sleep more soundly on a bike trip than we do if we travel to the same spot by car.

Fifth and finally, biking is fun. The ride we took today would have been a perfectly ordinary 20 minutes or so by car, but on a bike it was just plain smile-worthy. Seriously fun. So why wouldn't you choose to travel by bike this summer? Next week, I'll tell you about all the fun we had on this trip to try to inspire you to try a bike tour of your own. After all, life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Three types of touring

Basically, there are three different types of bike touring. We like them all.

Easiest is a fully supported tour. On a fully supported tour, you pay one package price for all of your lodging and most of your meals, some packages include bikes as well. You bike on your own, at your own pace, following pre-selected routes. A tour guide also pedals the route, while someone else drives a support van with all your luggage.

The tour we are doing now is self-supported. We made our own itinerary, our own reservations --with the help of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce (capecodchamber.org) and the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce (mvy.com). We carry all of our own luggage, usually in a BOB trailer, and we usually plan our days so we can do the "burdened ride" early in the morning, then drop our luggage off at our lodging and spend the rest of the day riding unburdened.

The third type of bike tour is a combination of the other two, call it semi-supported. Some lodging properties will offer packages in which they arrange to move your luggage, and you ride on your own between. Some places, notably northern Vermont (Country Inns Along The Trail, (inntoinn.com) and a number of places in Quebec, especially the Eastern Townships (www.easterntownships.org), and the Veloute des Bleuets (veloroute-bleuets.qc.ca/en) specialize in this kind of experience.

Whatever kind of bike tour you choose, whether it's long or short, to someplace new or someplace familiar, and whether it's your first or your 50th, I can guarantee you'll find yourself remembering it far into the future as you plan your next one. By the way, we now have done a number of great bike tours all over the Northeast; if you need suggestions or just want to discuss the concept of bike touring, feel free to drop me an email.

Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email: timjones@easternslopes.com